Get ready to Slamdance!
Slamdance was established in 1995, several years after Sundance had been established as the hotspot for American independent film. Started by a group of filmmakers who, for whatever reason, couldn’t get their films into the increasingly competitive bigger name fest, it has now become extremely competitive in its own right. One of the unique things about the festival is that in the competition screenings they show only films without prior theatrical distribution and with budgets under $1 million, from first-time feature directors. Sundance claims to emphasize indie-fare, but many of the films — even in competition — turn out to be vehicles for major stars to get their “indie-cred” and come to the festivals with indirect studio backing. Slamdance ensures that its films — at least those in competition — are on an even playing field.
Every year, in addition to a lineup of sincere fictional and documentary films, they tend to have a decent list of tongue-in-cheek and scary horror flicks. Last year my whole group went to see the low-budget but extremely effective “Paranormal Activity” and were all creeped out — apparently the rights to a bigger budget bigger names version have been purchased by Dream Works.
This year Slamdance is opening with I Sell the Dead, a film that has already generated a huge amount of buzz on the internet and from horror afficionados and stars Dominic Managhan (Merry from Lord of the Rings), Ron Perlman (you know, Hellboy), and Larry Fessenden (longtime veteran and creator of indie horror, director of The Last Winter that we showed at Eckerd’s Environmental Film Festival in 2008). It’s also showing Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Undead, and Zombie Girl, and several other scary flicks. For my money, the horror films at Slamdance tend to be every bit as exciting as the “Midnight” screenings at Sundance.
But it’s not all about horror. Slamdance has shown lots of early work by a wide range of highly successful filmmakers. So it’s always exciting to see what they have to offer — since there’s always the chance of being in an intimate screening room along with a director who may become the next big Chris Nolan (The Dark Knight) or Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace). Here’s what Executive Director of Programming Drea Clark had to say: ” “Always seemingly prescient, indie filmmakers have really been ahead of the mainstream curve this year in providing more humorous escapist fare, more honestly depicted romances and some truly compelling emotional turns. It’s been a heartening journey over my last ten years with Slamdance, in watching the technical and storytelling prowess of first time filmakers evolve and start to catch up with their raw talent, and I know we have some extraordinary future stars in our line-up, just ready to break out in the same manner as our more notable alumni.”
One very cool thing about Slamdance is that it retains a “family” vibe. It’s much easier to meet people there, as filmmakers and programmers hang out and relax together along with the dedicated among the audience. Drea Clark, who is ultimately responsible for the choices of films each year (and is a very cool, very approachable person) is there at the door to welcome audiences to nearly every screening, and if you’ve been there a few years it feels like you really are a part of the festival.
I’m looking forward to some excellent fictional and documentary features at this year’s Slamdance. Here’s what has me most excited so far:
I Sell the Dead, dir. by Glenn McQuaid - Set in the late 1800’s a duo of bumbling graverobbers begin to unearth peculiar corpses. (I have to say I’m not entirely wild about the premise, but I’ll be sure to try and check this one out at its premiere in hopes of meeting Ron Perlman and Larry Fessenden.)
Lost Sparrow, dir. by Chris Billing - in which filmmaker Chris Billing investigates the tragic 1978 deaths of his adopted Crow Indian brothers.
Zombie Girl: The Movie, dir. by Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall, and Erik Mauck — about the two years it took for 12-year-old Emily Hagins to write and direct her feature-length zombie movie, Pathogen.
The Road to Fallujah, dir. by Mark Manning — filmmaker Mark Manning was the only westerner to live with the people of Fallujah immediately following the battle that destroyed their ancient and holy city, and his documentary offers a humanizing look at current issues in Iraq.